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Dr. Shelby Putt

Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Sociology and Anthropology
Schroeder Hall - SCH 383
Office Hours
Tuesdays, 9:00-10:00 am; Thursdays, 9:00-10:00 am and 1:00-2:00 pm; or by appointment
  • About
  • Education
  • Awards & Honors
  • Research


Dr. Shelby Putt is a biological anthropologist whose research program combines functional neuroimaging technology (fNIRS and fMRI) with the fossil and archaeological record to investigate the evolution of human language, cognition, and brain size. Other research interests include stone tool use and manufacture, experimental archaeology, working memory, laterality, locomotion, comparative primate behavior, and social transmission/learning of skill-based behaviors.

Current Courses

102.002Human Origins: An Introduction to Biological Anthropology and Archaeology

398.001Professional Practice: Research Apprenticeship Anthropology

350.001The Human Fossil Record

450.001The Human Fossil Record

Teaching Interests & Areas

human evolution, experimental archaeology, primate studies, Paleolithic archaeology, osteology, cognition and language

Research Interests & Areas

I am interested in how humans’ manner of perceiving and interacting with the world is different from that of other primates and how it has changed through time, or in other words, how human cognition has evolved. This has led to my interest in how we can measure something as intangible as the evolution of cognition. One unique way that humans interact with the world is through their habitual use of tools. Tools are a product of cognition; they are a window into the mind of not only people living today, but also the humans and human relatives who made and used tools in the past. Therefore, I am also interested in the interplay between technology and human cognitive evolution. I rely on neuroimaging technology to infer the neural correlates of ancient tool production, and consequently draw conclusions about human cognitive abilities at different points in prehistory. This research has led to more specific questions about derived neural networks involved in language, working memory, and learning, as well as broader questions on the evolutionary mechanisms contributing to cognitive evolution and brain expansion, prehistoric modes for socially transmitting learned skills, and modern human origins.

TLDR: My research interests include the evolution of human language and cognition, Homo erectus, comparative primate cognition, Paleolithic technology, the application of psychological/neurological tools to anthropological questions, and hominin locomotion.


The Stone Age Institute; CRAFT, Indiana University
Gosport, Indiana

Ph D Anthropology

The University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa

MA Anthropology

The University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa

AA International Language & Culture Studies

Indiana University
Fort Wayne, Indiana

BA Anthropology

Indiana University
Fort Wayne, Indiana

Distinguished Dissertation Award

The University of Iowa Graduate Deans

June Helm Award

The University of Iowa Department of Anthropology

Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award

The University of Iowa Council on Teaching

Book, Chapter

Putt S.S. (2019) The stories stones tell of language and its evolution. In K.A. Overmann, F.L. Coolidge (Eds.), Squeezing Minds from Stones: Cognitive Archaeology and the Evolution of the Human Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cited Research

Putt S.S. (2016) Human Brain Activity during Stone Tool Production: Tracing the Evolution of Cognition and Language, Ph.D. thesis, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.


Putt S.S.J. (2020) Evolution of the human body with respect to language evolution. In J. Stanlaw (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Linguistic Anthropology, 1st ed. John Wiley & Sons. DOI: 10.1002/9781118786093

Journal Article

Putt, S., Anwarzai, Holden, C., Ruck, L., & Schoenemann, P. The evolution of combinatoriality and compositionality in hominid tool use: a comparative perspective. International Journal of Primatology (2022)
Putt S.S., Wijeakumar, S., Spencer, J.P. (2019) Prefrontal cortex activation supports the emergence of Early Stone Age toolmaking skill. NeuroImage 199, 57-69.
DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.05.056
Rizal Y., Westaway K.E., Zaim Y., van den Bergh G.D., Bettis E.A. III, Morwood M.J., Huffman O.F., Grün R., Joannes-Boyau R., Bailey R.M., Sidarto S., Westaway M.C., Kurniawan I., Moore M.W., Storey M., Aziz F., Suminto S., Zhao J., Aswan A., Sipola M., Larick R., Zonneveld J-P., Scott R., Putt S., Ciochon R.L. (2019) Last Appearance of Homo erectus at Ngandong, Java, 117,000 to 108,000 years ago. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1863-2
Ruck L., Daniel C., Putt S.S.J., Schick K., Toth N. (2019) Inter- and intra-rater reliability in lithic analysis: A case study in handedness determination methodologies. Journal of Archaeological Method & Theory. DOI: 10.1007/s10816-019-09424-y
Putt S.S., Wijeakumar S. (2018) Tracing the evolutionary trajectory of verbal working memory with neuro-archaeology. Interaction Studies 19(1-2), 272-288.
DOI: 10.1075/is.17042.put.


Investigating language relevant brain activation for Paleolithic toolmaking via functional magnetic resonance imaging. Paleoanthropology Society. (2020)
Cognitive evolution in Paleolithic Europe. The Age of Humans in Europe. Wenner Gren Foundations. (2018)
Is lateralization a valuable topic for understanding human cognitive evolution? Interdisciplinary perspectives on handedness research.. The John Templeton Foundation Workshop on Human Cognitive Evolution. The Stone Age Institute. (2018)
The Role of Working Memory while Learning Prehistoric Stone Toolmaking Skills: A Functional Brain Imaging Study. American Association of Physical Anthropologists. (2018)
What drives human cognitive evolution? The neuro-archaeological evidence. The John Templeton Foundation Workshop on Human Cognitive Evolution. (2018)
Functional Neuroimaging Insights into Acheulian Cognition and Hominin Brain Evolution. American Association of Physical Anthropologists. (2017)
Tracing the evolutionary trajectory of verbal working memory with neuro-archaeology. How the Brain Got Language: Towards a New Road Map. National Science Foundation. (2017)
The Evolution of Thought on the Evolution of Early Hominin Tool Use Cognition: Where Do We Go from Here?. Evolution of Tool Use: Animal and Human Perspectives. Oxford University Museum of Natural History. (2015)
Working Memory and Early Stone Age Tool Manufacture. Archaeological Institute of America. (2015)

Grants & Contracts

Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. The Stone Age Institute; CRAFT, Indiana University. Private. (2016)
American Dissertation Fellowship. American Association of University Women. Private. (2015)
Investigating the co-evolution of language and toolmaking: An fNIRS study. The Leakey Foundation. Private. (2015)
Experimental investigation of the co-evolution of language and toolmaking in the brain: An fNIRS study. Wenner-Gren Foundation. Private. (2014)
The effect of language on cortical activity during bifacial stone tool reduction: An fNIRS study. Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. Private. (2014)